PRACTICAL DEVOTIONS IN HONOUR OF THE CROWN OF THORNS
1. Go forth, Ye daughters of Sion, and see King Solomon in the diadem wherewith his mother crowned him. (Cantic. 3:2)
With these words our holy Mother the Church exhorts all Christian souls to contemplate the King of Kings, Jesus Christ, her Spouse, crowned with thorns. There are strong and pressing motives for this invitation. Jesus crowned with thorns is a singular spectacle in the history of human sorrow and suffering. The malice of the human heart has invented, and the cruelty of the human hand has inflicted all manner of tortures on guilty or persecuted victims. But the horrible martyrdom of the Crown of Thorns was exclusively reserved for the Divine Victim of Calvary. If the novelty of an event is sufficient to excite the curiosity of mankind, surely the unexampled torture inflicted upon our dear Lord, should draw the attention of Christians to this new development of human malice and cruelty. From the two great doctors of the Church, St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom, we have learned that the horrible invention of the Crown of Thorns, must be attributed to the infernal malice of the devil, who wished to torment and to humbleour Divine Lord beyond the experience of any other human sufferer. "It was the devil that had taken an entire possession of all those impious executioners," St. John Chrysostom says. "The devil," St. Athanasius adds, "the devil excited and impelled those cruel soldiers to torment and deride our blessed Lord." (Serm. de Pass. Domini.)
We are confirmed in this well-founded opinion when we reflect that those Pagan soldiers, in violation of military discipline, trampling under foot every law of order, justice and humanity, acted this bloody tragedy without the knowledge, and contrary to the intention of Pilate, the Roman Governor and their superior officer. "Milites, pecunia corrupti, hoc ad gratiam Judaeorum faciebant," John Chrysostom says. Two conclusions follow from this fact. We learn, first, that the torment of the Crown of Thorns must have been extremely painful and humiliating to our Divine Lord, having been inflicted upon him by those barbarous men, possessed and instigated by the malice of the devil. All tortures inflicted through malicious hatred and against law, order and justice, are always more cruel, more painful and more humiliating for an innocent victim, than chastisements deserved by crime and decreed by legitimate authority. But in this great and profound mystery of the crowning with thorns of our Lord Jesus Christ, all on the side of men, all is disorder, all is malice and extreme cruelty. The second conclusion to which we would come is that devout Christians should practice some special devotion adapted and intended to make the best reparation in our limited power to our Divine Lord for this new and horrible outrage. He will surely be pleased with our humble efforts and pious intention.
2. This is our earnest desire in proposing the beads and badge of the Crown of Thorns to the attention of devout Catholics. We venture to make the proposal, after having asked the advice of competent persons, who have approved it and have encouraged us in our understanding. Convinced of ultimate success, because we know in whom we believe, and for whom we work; yet we are not without some apprehension that our humble efforts may evoke some opposition. We expect that one of the principal objections will be directed against the novelty of this devotion. This objection may proceed from two very different kinds of persons. The first will be found intelligent and conservative. The second may be denominated timid and selfish. This latter class of easy-going persons does not like to be annoyed with many, much less with new practices of devotion, which require a little time to learn them and cost some slight inconvenience in actual execution. They are fully satisfied with those few prayers which they learned in their childhood without much labor, and which they ocasionally recite without any effort, and, for this reason, very likely without much advantage to their souls. They imagine that, like themselves, the Church of Christ is getting old now, and does not like to be bothered with new practices of devotion. Persons in this state of mind will scarcely have patience to await calmly, and listen to arguments: hence, we will not attempt to disturb their equanimity, but we will, with hope of better success, address our humble remarks to the first class of more intelligent and generous souls.
Every intelligent Catholic is habitually disposed to use prudence and reflection when any new practice of devotion is proposed for his acceptance. Before approving, sanctioning and practising it, he will carefully examine its origin and nature, its object and authority. Being satisfied that the origin of a new form of practical devotion is derived from a sacred source, that it is good and useful in its nature, that its object is holy and desirable, and, finally, that it is recommended by the sanction of legitimate ecclesiastical authority, surely he will not oppose it, but he will rather uphold and encourage its practical development. It will not require, dear reader, any deep or extensive study to find out that devotion to the Crown of Thorns possesses all these qualifications.
3. Its origin is derived from a well-known fact of sacred history, related in the Gospel, by the three holy Evangelists, St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. John, whose testimony is true. The form of a devotion intended and adapted to recall to the mind of Christians, the physical sufferings and moral ignominies and humiliations endured by the Incarnate Son of God, with the pious intention of compassionating him in the horrible torture suffered for our sake, on account of our sins, should certainly be considered both good and desirable. Good! ... Oh, is it not good, dear reader, to contemplate Jesus, our Lord, crowned with thorns, seated upon a cold stone, made to hold in his hand, quivering with pain, the reed of derision as his royal scepter, covered with the. scarlet cloak of ignominy, whilst Pagan soldiers, encouraged by the approving shouts of an insolent rabble, strike with heavy sticks his thorn-crowned head, spit upon his sacred face, and impiously bend their knee to salute him in mockery, King of the Jews? ... Is it not good and desirable for Christian souls to consider often the patience, the meekness, the humility and charity of the King of Sorrows in his keenest anguish and deepest public humiliations? ... St. Bernard, by happy experience, found this meditation very good and profitable. He tells us that from his first entrance into the cloister, which he considers the beginning of his conversion, he formed for his daily meditation a crown of all the sufferings and sorrows of his crucified Lord and Savior, and pressed it closely to his loving heart.
"During my life," he says, "I shall never cease proclaiming the torrent of delights which this salutary devotion brought to my soul. During all eternity I will hold in grateful remembrance the abundance of Divine mercies wherewith my spirit has been refreshed. This holy crown is very dear to my heart. No one can ever take it from me. I press it closely to my bosom. To meditate upon it often is the secret of my wisdom, the fullness of my knowledge, the perfection of my sanctification, the guarantee of my salvation, the treasure of all my merits. This meditation supports me in my trials and sufferings, keeps me humble in prosperity, and like two thorny hedges at the right and left side of the road, it makes me walk safely midway, where prudence leads and true wisdom follows, keeping away from me the snares of presumption and the pit-falls of despair. Do you likewise, dearly beloved, plait for your devotion this precious Crown of Thorns. Clasp it to your breast, press it deeply to the very core of your heart, meditate frequently upon it. It will become your surest protection in life, your consolation in death, and the crown of glory in a blissful eternity." (St. Bernard, Serm. 24 in Cantic.)
This devotion of the Crown of Thorns should, therefore, be considered good and desirable in its nature, as it is holy and profitable in its object. The principal object of the devotion of the Crown of Thorns is the promotion of the honor and glory of our Divine Lord by means of the frequent remembrance of and pious meditation on the sufferings and humiliations endured by him at his crowning of thorns. Every Christian will readily acknowledge that this is a holy exercise. St. Bernard believed it to be both holy and sanctifying, he considered it desirable, because he warmly exhorts us to practice it continually with fervor and fidelity. By happy experience, this eminent saint found this pious exercise highly conducive to his spiritual progress in the way of Christian and religious perfection. He assures us that God rewarded his devotion with an abundance of heavenly lights and graces. From this fact, we are given to understand that God was pleased with the devout practice of this holy doctor of the Church, and that in his Divine goodness he sanctioned it with his heavenly gifts.
Fully persuaded of these advantages, St. Bernard blames the careless apathy and want of devotion of some effeminate Christians, who neglect this holy exercise. "Egredimini filiae Sion. Come forth, daughters of Sion," he says. "We call you daughters of Sion, ye worldly Christians, because in your conduct, you show yourselves weak and delicate. You are daughters, and not sons, because you do not manifest any strength of devotion, any manly courage, in your Christian life. Rise from your carnal indolence to the intelligence of spiritual truths, from the slavery of sensual concupiscence to the liberty of the children of God. Come out bravely from your earthly notions, from your worldly maxims, and from the selfish and vain pretexts of old customs. Come and see your Heavenly King crowned by his stepmother, the Synagogue, with a crown of thorns. (St. Bernard, Serm. 2 in Epiph. Domini.)
"Let sinners," this holy doctor says in another sermon, "Let sinners look at their Savior crowned with thorns on account of their sins, and be moved to compunction and sorrow. If they obstinately refuse during life, to see him crowned with thorns in pain and ignominy, they will be obliged to behold him as their Judge in a crown of justice, when he will condemn them as reprobates to everlasting punishment. But all pious souls that have often meditated on his painful and ignominious Crown of Thorns, will behold him in his crown of glory, and receiving from his divine hand the diadem of the heavenly kingdom, they will be made eternally happy in his blessed company. (Serm. 50, de Diversis.) Surely, all this makes the devotion of the Crown of Thorns very desirable.
4. The celebrated stigmatization of the seraphic patriarch, St. Francis of Assissi, may be adduced as a satisfactory proof that a special devotion in memory of the Crown of Thorns will be agreeable to our Lord and profitable to our soul. The Church has instituted a special feast on the 17th of September, with its proper Office and Mass, in order that every year the remembrance of this extraordinary prodigy of the Passion, may be renewed among the faithful, and the mystery expressed by the stigmatization may be more profitably meditated upon, to inflame our hearts with love for our suffering Savior. In the prayer of the Office and Mass of that day the following words are used, which express the principal object of the Feast: "Lord Jesus Christ, when this world is become cold in thy love, thou hast renewed the sacred stigmata of thy Passion in the body of blessed Francis, in order to inflame our hearts with the fire of thy charity."
To keep this sacred fire of Divine love ever burning in the hearts of Christians, the striking prodigy of stigmatization has been continued without interruption in the persons of some privileged members of the Church, from the time of St. Francis to the present day. We have seen that more than one hundred and fifty saints or servants of God have since received the complete or partial stigmatization of the Passion. Not merely with words of mouth, but with gaping wounds and flowing blood, the great mystery of Calvary is proclaimed by a chain of prodigies to a cold, thoughtless and selfish world, and is perpetuated in the Church of the living God, to inflame the hearts of Christians with the fire of Jesus' love.
It is a fact deserving our most serious attention that the prodigies of stigmatization have been almost invariably connected with the miraculous impression of the Crown of Thorns. This remarkable event is contemporaneous with the stigmatization of St. Francis. Blessed Emilia or Emily Bicchieri, of the Third Order of St. Dominic, born in Vercelli, Piedmont, Italy, May 3rd, 1238, is the first person known to have suffered the supernatural impression of the Crown of Thorns. She died in her native city on the Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross, May 3rd, 1278. St. Francis of Assissi died October 4th, 1226. From that period the miracle of the Crown of Thorns has been visibly perpetuated in the Catholic Church without interruption to the present day. Palma Maria of Oria, in the kingdom of Naples, and Louise Lateau in Belgium are the most celebrated instances of our time.
We humbly believe that God has some special object in keeping the Crown of Thorns, miraculously bleeding in the Church during more than six hundred years. We believe that He desires to excite in the faithful a special devotion to this profound, moving and instructive mystery of His Son's Passion. As the stigmatization of St. Francis, continued ever since in so many saints and servants of God, was, according to the infallible judgment of the Church, intended to promote devotion to the Passion of our Lord in a general way; so we venture to say that a similar chain of prodigies relative to the Crown of Thorns, seems to indicate that our Lord desires to excite in the minds and hearts of the faithful a special devotion towards this sacred and sublime mystery of the Passion.
5. We sincerely and heartily rejoice at the rapidly increasing devotion among the faithful towards the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We believe that this Divine Heart is the invincible bulwark of the Church against the desperate assaults of her numerous and powerful enemies conspiring together to effect her utter destruction. The Sacred Heart will soon be our salvation.
From what we read, however, in the edifying life of Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque, a nun of the Visitation, who received from the blessed hands of our Lord the Crown of Thorns, we venture to say that the beads and badge of the Crown of Thorns will form the complement of this sublime and practical devotion. The following are the words of this great and glorious saint. "The Divine Heart was represented to me on a throne of fire and flames, radiant on all sides, and more brilliant than the sun, and transparent as crystal.. .The wound which our Lord received upon the Cross was visible. There was a Crown of Thorns around the Divine Heart, and a cross above it." (Life of Blessed Margaret Mary) The emblem of the Sacred Heart of our Lord, by the command of the Church, is always represented in paintings and devout pictures, with his Crown of Thorns. These thorns must then be very dear to our Blessed Savior; for he wishes to have them entwined round his sacred and glorified heart. May we not, then, reasonably and devoutly hope that the beads and badge of the Crown of Thorns are some of the many precious fruits of this holy devotion, very agreeable to our Blessed Lord? If the devout lovers of the Sacred Heart think so, we feel sure that they will pray and interest themselves for its adoption and propagation among the faithful.
We see another hopeful sign in favor of this devotion of the beads and badge of the Crown of Thorns in the famous prodigy of Anna Maria Taigi's mystical sun surrounded and crowned with thorns, which she continually contemplated during forty-seven years, and which was mentioned in the first part of this book. As the devotion to the Sacred Heart of our Divine Lord is evidently intended to cure the corruption of the human heart in these degenerate times; so we humbly hope that the devotion to the Crown of Thorns will help to correct the perverse thoughts, erroneous judgments and extravagant opinions of this proud world. The Sacred Heart of Jesus will purify and sanctify our hearts, and devotion to the Crown of Thorns will rectify our reason, sanctify our minds, and thus thoroughly perfect human nature.
6. In the history of mankind we find no epoch where these two vital remedies were more needed than at the present time. Our limits forbid a long discussion upon this important subject. A little knowledge and experience of human society is sufficient to demonstrate that the human heart in the generality of men, is deeply corrupted by its attachment to material objects and by sensual indulgence. The more material and self-indulgent man becomes, the less he loves God. Moreover, because the law of God is diametrically opposed to the self-indulgence and materialism of man, who has been created for higher and nobler ends, hence arises the modern rebellion against the Divine law, and an actual hatred in the hearts of the most vicious men against the Divine Legislator. Such is the present terrible condition of human society. The Sacred Heart of Jesus only can apply an effective remedy for this frightful disorder.
But another evil is prevalent in human society. This is what St. John calls "the pride of life." It is the pride of the mind, the pride of intellect in a superlative degree. It is the preference given by self-conceited men to human reason, to secular knowledge and to natural science, above divine revelation, against the essential dogmas of religion and in a spiteful opposition to the infallible judgment of the Church, and of the Vicar of Jesus Christ, the Pope of Rome. This is the present disorder of modern human intelligence, which strives to restore the Pagan worship of Minerva and of the more modern goddess of reason of Voltairean fashion. Among the common classes of the people, this spirit of pride is evident in the self-conceit, in the aspiration for independence from all authority, human or divine, in the contempt for superiors, in the disregard of law and duty boldly manifested by many in their socialistic, or, rather, anti-social tendency.
Outside of the Catholic Church the people, or at least their secular leaders, have impiously constituted themselves the makers and unmakers of their ministers of religion, the supreme judges of the doctrines and of the mode of worship of their peculiar sect. This baneful and destructive maxim of human pride, called private judgment, a crime in religious matters, worse in many respects than original sin, was proclaimed by the first leaders of the so-called Protestant Reformation; it has now reached its full development to the lowest degree of practical infidelity. The spirit of pride and rebellion of the fallen angels has, to a great extent, usurped the dominion of the world. It is only the Sacred Heart of Jesus, crowned with thorns, that can succeed in healing this deep and wide wound of the human heart, and in curing the towering pride of the human intellect through his meekness and humility. Learn from me, Jesus crowned with thorns says, learn from me to be meek and humble of heart. Oh! what lessons of humility, what examples of meekness and obedience, what respect for authority, shall we learn from the Incarnate Son of God, if we meditate often on the profound mystery of the Crown of Thorns. The Sacred Heart and the Crown of Thorns are destined to cure and save humanity in this last age of the world.
7. Finally, we feel fully convinced that a sincere and practical devotion to the Crown of Thorns among the faithful is conformable to the spirit and intention of our holy Mother the Church, the loving Spouse of the Lamb. This holy Church, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and prompted by her own devotion, has instituted a special Office and Mass in commemoration and honor of the Crown of Thorns of her Divine Spouse. The Catholic clergy, and all ecclesiastical and religious persons bound to the choir, are strictly commanded to recite this office, and the priests, to say this Mass, every year, on the first Friday in Lent. The same Mass may, through a special devotion, be repeated on different suitable occasions. Through the good example and zeal of the clergy, the Church surely desires to propagate this salutary devotion among the faithful. The special honor and veneration paid by the Church to the genuine Crown Of Thorns of our Savior or to any portion of it as a sacred relic, manifests to us, what is her spirit and intention in relation to this sacred and memorable instrument of our Lord's Passion. Here we may justly call to our mind the decree of Pope Innocent VI about the lance and nails of our Lord, which, we have mentioned in the introduction of this work. The spirit and mind of the Church can likewise be understood by the fact of her canonization or beatification of those privileged persons who have been miraculously impressed with the Crown of Thorns. All these considerations leave no doubt in our mind that it is the desire of our holy Mother the Church to promote among the faithful, by every legitimate means, a salutary devotion to all the instruments of our Lord's Passion, and especially to his Crown of Thorns, which caused him such long and intense sufferings, and so many deep humiliations.
We should, moreover, observe that the miraculous impression of the Crown of Thorns upon the head of God's holy servants has in no previous century of Christianity been perhaps so frequent, certainly never so extraordinary and so remarkable, as in this present nineteenth century. As far as we know, no less than fifteen privileged persons have received already this miraculous impression. We cannot foretell how many more will be decorated with this glorious badge of the Passion during the twenty-three years that still remain of this memorable age. For the present time it will be sufficient to mention the illustrious names of Palma Maria of Oria, in the kingdom of Naples, and of Louise Lateau in Belgium, to show that the circumstances attending their miraculous coronation have never been so remarkable and so glorious for Jesus Christ and for his holy Church.
Therefore, when overwhelmed with bodily afflictions and mental anxieties, on account of our temporal affairs or spiritual concerns; when, like holy King David, our soul refuses the consolations of creatures, let us then at least look up to the Divine King of Sorrows, crowned with thorns, and saturated with opprobriums. When our poor head is tortured with pain, which our irritated brain, the source and center of the nervous system, diffuses through every limb and part of our prostrated body, some pious reflections upon, or at least a devout look at our Divine Head and Master, crowned with sharp thorns, will be found very good, very comfortable, and highly profitable to our souls. Members of a Divine Head crowned with thorns, we will learn from his example to bear our physical sufferings and humiliations with patience, meekness, and humility.
For this end we have written this work. We are not aware of the existence of any similar book, or of any formal devotion in memory and honor of the Crown of Thorns of our dear Savior. With entire and absolute dependence on the judgment of the Church, we humbly offer to the public this small volume, and venture to propose to the acceptance of our fellow-Catholics, in these days of trial, the beads and badge of the Crown of Thorns. Competent ecclesiastical authority will, in its wisdom and prudence, have to decide whether the book and the proposed devotion are suitable and proper for the end for which they are intended. If they are approved, as we trust, we will rejoice for the honor and glory that will be given by many devout souls to our Blessed Lord, and for the spiritual and temporal blessings which this salutary devotion will bring upon mankind. But, if our incapacity and unworthiness render useless our humble efforts, we will remain satisfied with our good intention and expect for it our reward from our Lord, for whose honor and glory we have attempted this work. We will also pray and hope that some more worthy and more able person may be induced to accomplish in a more satisfactory manner what we have attempted to indicate, and have ventured to begin. We close this chapter with a pious hymn by the Rev. Father Caswall, translated from the Office of the Crown of Thorns, "Exite, Sion Filiae." Then, in the following chapters we will venture to propose our idea of the devotion of the beads and badge of the Crown of Thorns in memory and honor of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Daughters of Sion! royal maids!,
Come forth to see the Crown
Which Sion's self, with cruel hands, Hath woven for her Son.
See! how amid his gory locks, The jagged thorns appear.
See ! how his pallid countenance, Foretells that death is near.
Oh! savage was the earth that bore
Those thorns so sharp and long,
Savage the hand that gathered them To work this deadly wrong.
But now that Christ's redeeming blood Hath tinged them with its dye,
Fairer than roses they appear, Or palms of Victory.
Jesus, the thorns which pierce thy brow Sprang from the seed of sin.
Pluck ours, we pray thee, from our hearts And plant thine own therein.
Praise, honor to the Father be
And sole-begotten Son; Praise to the Spirit Paraclete
Whilst endless ages run. AMEN.